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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Explore the "big" island of Hawaii

The Hawaiian islands: lush landscapes, incredible string based music, pineapples that grow on trees, morning sunrises over the water, dramatic coastlines and fantastic weather. A photographer’s paradise.

Actually, anyone’s paradise.

The Big Island of Hawaii is by far the largest of any of the islands, representing some 63% of the state. You could combine all the other Hawaiian islands into this one island, and still have room for more. It’s also the most diverse, in terms of climates and size. Sun, rain, desert, snow–you name it, the Big Island, the island of Hawaii, has it.

This blog post is a companion piece to the Big Island Photowalk episode. I encourage you to watch the video, and check out the gallery, with loads of photos.

Know that Hilo is the “wet” side of the island, where it rains more than anywhere on the mainland, thus, producing a green, lush paradise. But that said, most of the rain is the evening, when you’re asleep. We’ve visited the island many times, and it’s never rained an entire day, just off and on. The more consistent sunshine is on the west side of the island, in Kona-Kailua.

Photo note: the sun rises on the Hilo side and sets on the Kona side.

Most folks break up their tours by days, so today, we’re going to start with your first day in Hilo, followed by day 2 on the scenic 4 mile drive out of town, day 3 at the Hawaii Volcano National Park and Day 4 on the west side of the island, in Kona-Kailua.

Hilo Day 1

Your day starts here:

Rainbow Falls (Waianuenue Avenue, Hilo, Island of Hawaii, HI) The beauty of catching this waterfall is that it’s so easy to get to. Start by taking a 1.8 mile drive just a few blocks from the center of town, park in the lot, and you’re there. No long walk to go check it out. The 80 foot falls is, according to, home to the ancient Hawaiian goddess Hina, the goddess of the moon. The point is to go out and enjoy it, capture it in the morning, and then walk up the steps, to the left of the falls, for another view of the natural wonder. Note to drone enthusiasts–this is a no-drone zone.

Jefferson Graham Photowalks

Boiling Pots (off Waianuenue Avenue, Wailuku River State Park, Hilo, Island of Hawaii) Continue up the road to the Pots, which is a fancy name for more of the same. It’s another view of the 18-mile-long Wailuku River, which includes Rainbow Falls.

Kaumana Caves (1492 Kaumana Dr, Hilo, HI) is a state park that basically lets you hike into a lava tube. Now it’s a dark cave. Tips: ditch the flip flops and put on sneakers–it’s very hard to walk on the rocks otherwise. You might also want to invest in some head lamps, as it’s very dark and will be hard to see in there.

Hilo Town. The old downtown district looks like it hasn’t changed in 70 years. There’s even a Kress five and dime (174 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI) in the center of town–but while the building still stands as it once was, you can’t get a grilled cheese and vanilla milk shake inside. Instead, the Kress building is now a charter school. Enjoy exploring the old antique shops, ukulele shops and fun restaurants.

—One of our favorites from Hilo is the old, 1950s erected Hilo Public Library,  (300 Waianuenue Ave, Hilo, HI ) which is just so Hawaii. An open-air courtyard serves as the centerpiece of the library, and I repeat, it’s open-air. This in a city where it rains often. Yet people don’t seem to get wet.

The must-stop foodwise is Paul’s Place Cafe, (132 Punahoa St, Hilo, HI) which is inside the Pakalana Inn. Know that you need reservations to get it, and you’ll want to do that right away. Trust me on this one. Otherwise, we also enjoyed the Cafe Pesto and Pineapple’s.

And speaking of food, the Hilo Farmer’s Market is open every day, but the “market” days are Wednesday and Saturday, when more merchants arrive with their exotic fruits. There are some 200 of them.

Watch the video above to get a good sense of what it’s like to visit the market.

A quick primer on your islands:

Oahu: the most cosmopolitan and congested, in Honolulu, home to the famed Diamond Head surf area and mega-resorts. The other side of the island, the North Shore, particularly, is more remote, though it too gets crowds, and some of the biggest winter waves anywhere.

Maui: romantic beaches set against an island that wasn’t that crowded 30 years ago. Now it too is congested with resorts and golf courses.

Kauai: The “Garden Island,” like the Big Island, gets its share of rain, and thus produces awesome greenery. Way more expensive to visit than the Big Island.

Hawaii: Best known for that volcano that spit out all that lava in 2018. Hawaii is a growing island, thanks to the lava, but Kilauea has been quiet since `18. The east side is down to earth, the way it used to be, we can assume, with no Marriott, Sheraton or Hilton sightings. Kona, on the other side, gets warmer weather, and the big resorts. It’s also the home to Kona coffee, which is beloved in some circles.



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